Gilgit-Baltistan and Constitutional Rights

By Zulqarnain Shah 

“No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy”, writes Nobel Laureate, Dr. Amartya Sen.

He argues that the incentive of winning the elections in a functioning democracy makes a government to ensure that a famine does not hit the country.

If Professor Sen’s theory is applied to the governance model of Gilgit-Baltistan, it would appear that the federal government does not have any incentive to practice good governance in the region; GB does not play any role in the elections of Pakistan’s federal government!!

In this context, there are some constants in the socio-political structure of Gilgit-Baltistan which control its political dynamics. An attempt will be made in this write-up to underline some of those constants.

Firstly, the ruling party in Islamabad certainly has the incentive to improve the economic conditions of other four provinces to win the elections. Gilgit-Baltistan has a number of spots which can attract international tourists to Pakistan. The country is currently facing a balance of payment crisis and influx of international tourists can relieve some pressure of the current account deficit. Therefore, it is in the interest of the governing party in Islamabad to ensure peace and stability in Gilgit-Baltistan. In the long-run, this can only be done by providing economic opportunities and a political identity to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Secondly, geo-strategic location of Gilgit-Baltistan is a feature that the government in Islamabad wishes to exploit to ensure long-term economic growth and stability. Pakistan’s exports are almost half of its imports and the country wishes to pursue an export-led growth policy. The country sees China as a potential importer of its products. The country also sees China as a potential investor in its borders. Like every other investors, Chinese investors would only invest in CPEC projects, if they see that the expected return on CPEC projects is higher than the return on the second best choice. The expected return on the investment in CPEC can only be increased by minimizing risks in Pakistan. This can be done by resolving  political disputes and by improving governance in Pakistan. Thus, Gilgit-Baltistan’s geo-strategic location gives a hope to the people of the region that the government in Islamabad would ensure good governance in Gilgit-Baltistan in the near future.

Thirdly, corrupt practices of some segments in Gilgit-Baltistan to exploit the public resources in their own benefit make one to feel that one is better off under the direct control of the government in Islamabad which is impeding the growth of the development of political thought in the region. It is certain that the value of integrity among the people of the region has lost some of its importance and one gets recognition for being more corrupt than others. In a speech, Deputy Speeker GBLA said that every voter pressurizes the MLAs for a government job which makes it obvious that most of the people in the region do not even know that what a legislative council is meant to do.

Lastly, Gilgit-Baltistan’s association with the Kashmir Issue is one of the factors that are making it difficult for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to have political rights in Pakistan. It is obvious that the Kashmir Issue is not going to be solved in the near future. The only way to not make Kashmir Issue a hurdle in the attainment of rights in Pakistan by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan is to make the people of Pakistan know that political movements in Gilgit-Baltistan are different from the ones in Kashmir, for the two have completely different political and historical contexts.

In conclusion, it appears that despite of there not being an election-focused incentive, the federal government has much to gain from socio-economic and political empowerment of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is therefore hoped that the people of GB will one day enjoy their overdue political rights.

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